My Nghiep brocade weaving village in Ninh Phuoc District,
central Ninh Thuan Province, has a long-standing reputation among brocade lovers
for its high-quality and creative products.
Local artisans in the village, like 73-year-old Phu Thi Mo, have
spared no effort to develop their craft while still being careful to preserve
the centuries-old trade of the Cham ethnic minority group.
Born into a family who has been making brocade for many
generations, Mo’s mother taught her how to weave the textiles when she was ten
years old. It took Mo seven years of observing and practising the challenging
craft before she could weave the patterned brocades herself.
In recent years, Mo has observed that local artisans mostly
focus on weaving simple patterns instead of the complex ancient patterns that
used to be the trademark of the Cham ethnic minority group and are now rarely
seen in the market place.
"About 50 years ago, I had a chance to see sophisticated
brocade products with beautiful patterns that you can hardly find anymore, such
as the stylised god Shiva, the god bird Garuda or dragons. Unfortunately, these
products were lost during the wars," said Lam Gia Tinh, a scholar.
Mo has devoted her life to restoring these lost designs to
preserve the village’s traditional craft.
"My Nghiep brocades are part of the Cham ethnic minority
group’s cultural identity, so restoring the traditional craft means preserving
the culture of the Cham people," she said.
However, the question of how to restore patterns created by
ancient artisans of the village is not easy to answer, she said, adding that
products made nowadays to sell to tourists are often low quality mass-produced
In 1993, a Japanese tourist with a passion for collecting Cham
brocades, gave Mo a photo from the 1960s of a brocade product and asked her to
make a reproduction.
"Observing the woven patterns in the photo, I burst into
tears. I felt so lucky to once again see the traditional patterns created by our
ancestors," she said.
Although she had never been taught how to weave such a brocade,
Mo promised to make a reproduction for her Japanese customer.
With only the photo to go by, it took Mo three months of trial
and error before she was able to create a copy of the ancient pattern.
Brocade weaving is an important part of the Cham ethnic group’s
culture. In order to preserve and develop that aspect of their culture, Mo keeps
creating new brocade patterns and passing on her knowledge to a new generation
of village weavers.
She requires young workers to pay close attention to every step,
from how to move the point of a needle to the correct way to pass through a weft
to create different patterns.
Due to the declining market economy, young artisans often pay
more attention to the quantity rather than the quality of brocade products, she
said. Many artisans use artificial silk to increase their profits and others
even use machine to produce brocade, she added.
"When we weave brocade by hand, we put our soul into the
product and ensure its quality. Weaving brocade by hand also helps workers
understand how hard our ancestors worked," Mo said.
Even though they are expensive, products made by Mo are still
attractive to customers because not only are they beautiful, but they represent
a tangible piece of the Cham ethnic minority group’s history.
Brocade products from My Nghiep village have earned a firm
foothold among foreign customers, including buyers from France, Japan, Malaysia,
Singapore and Belgium.
Brocade production in the village has created jobs for hundreds
of poor women, increasing their monthly income to VND1 million (US$60) each.
Local authorities built a model craft village in 2002, establishing three
co-operatives which have drawn over 250 local workers.
The province has also worked to turn My Nghiep village into a
tourist destination to help local businesses develop trade and introduce foreign
visitors to the culture of the Cham ethnic people.
Nearly 450 of the village’s 500 households have overcome
poverty thanks to the ancient craft of brocade weaving. — VNS